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Kawaii Culture Didn’t Exist at the Beginning of the Modern Age?!  – The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory Vol. 3
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How exactly did the concept of “kawaii” come about? Last volume we searched for its origins. Apparently it was an older form of the world “utsukushi”. It meant “to adore small or childish things” and from there, for example, the story of Kaguya-Hime, or the Moon Princess, was born. We also discussed how the Moon Princess became the original base for Pokemon or other miniaturized “kawaii” culture characters today. But when exactly did this culture begin to blossom? That’s exactly what we want to ask in this volume. So how long did we have to wait until “kawaii” culture finally blossomed?

Anime about "Kaguyahime" story by Studio Guibli

Anime about “Kaguyahime” story by Studio Ghibli

Although the word “kawaii” was included in the positive meaning of words like “utsukushi”, “to admire small and childish things”, it evolved from negative words like “kaohayushi”, meaning “so pitiable one can’t stand it”. Then sometime around the 19th Century, the word started being used in almost the same way we use it today.

However “kawaii” didn’t soon become a facet of Japanese culture on its own. At the beginning of the modern age there was no “kawaii culture”. I feel rather confident saying this.

It had to do with the concept of “girls”, and is deeply entwined with the culture they created. What I’m saying is that “kawaii” culture was born through the “girls” from each period in history. A “girl” is born. The “girl” concept lies somewhere in the framework of a “child” and can be captured. What exactly is a “child”, though? Most of us would probably reply that a child is “a human born that has yet to become an adult”. However, at the beginning of modern times a child wasn’t viewed that way. The way we view children now was established after that.

According to the idea of French historian Philippe Aries, prior to the 17th century, children were viewed as “small adults”. As “small adults”, they were seen as a weaker presence that could not care or fend for themselves. After they had matured to a certain extent and were able to take care themselves and others around them, they were regarded as “young adults”. And so, their play and work was in the same place as other adults, and they were made to experience the same things. “Small adults” and “young adults” began to be described to as “children” or “childhood” through the creation of the modern concept of family and school. In short, education became a must within the institutions of family and school, and the thought that their existence as children should be protected was born. That is to say roughly that, before the modern era, until they became full-fledged adults that children spent their time maturing among adults as sort of a training period, and that in contrast following the modern era with the institutions of family and school, the result was that “children” were isolated from people of other ages, and step-by-step were protectively brought up.

Children born in modern times are treated the same as “girls”. For example, according to critic Eiji Otsuka’s idea of a “girl”, since biologically they meant to become mothers, they are protected among the institutions of family and school, they do not need to work, nor participate in social or productive activities, and that in a sense, these girls are held in a “moratorium” period. And thus, in this “moratorium” period she was bound to get caught up in a world of hobbies. As a result, girls formed their own culture, or “girls’ culture”, yet we cannot claim this as “kawaii culture”. So what exactly was this “girls’ culture” that they had created?

…What exactly is Shoujo Culture? How "Kawaii Culture" blossomed?
…「少女文化」とは? 「かわいい」文化はどのようにして花が開くに至ったのか

Translated by Jamie Koide


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Author
KAI NAGASE
KAI NAGASE

Writer, Book Reviewer. Having the degree of MA. (Japanese Literature) I love Japanese Girl's Popular Music, such as YUKI, Chara, Makoto Kawamoto, and Seiko Oomori.

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